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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Jonathan Neil Rhodes
  • Born 27 July 1969 Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa
  • Educated Maritzburg College
  • Occupation Professional Cricketer
  • Debut 13 July 1999 v South African Academy at Castle Avenue.
  • Cap Number 624
  • Style Right hand bat, right arm medium pace.
  • Teams Natal, Kwa Zulu-Natal, Gloucestershire, FICA World XI, South Africa

Jonty Rhodes will always be remembered as one of the most brilliant fieldsmen in the whole history of cricket. His speed over the ground, his quick pick ups and returns added to his phenomenal diving catches and stops are the stuff of cricketing legend. It is easy to forget that he was also a highly competent batsman at 4 or 5 who scored 2532 runs in Test cricket at 35.66 and almost 10000 in all first class matches at 41.14. He also averaged 35.11 in ODIs and just over 30 in all List A matches. While these figures do not mark him as one of South Africa's all time batting greats, they certainly show that he was more than just a brilliant field who could bat a bit.

He grew up in a sports charged atmosphere with both his parents being gifted athletes. Jonty himself, though showing some talent as a scrum half, first shone at football and then hockey. He might have won real fame in the latter, being picked for the national squad in the days of isolation. As late as 1996 he was asked to take part in the trials for the Olympic squad but was prevented from doing so by a hamstring injury.

Having been vice captain of the South African Schools XI in 1987, Hansie Cronje being captain, he made a century on first class debut and, partly because of his fielding, was preferred to Cronje, with whom he developed a friendship which survived the other's disgrace, for South Africa's first post isolation home Test v India at Kingsmead, Durban in 1992/93. However he took a long time to establish himself at this level, though his fielding ensured his selection for the one day side. His breakthrough came in 1998 when he scored 367 runs in the series in England at 52.42, second only to his captain in aggregate and average. Having made 95 at Edgbaston, Jonty hit a superb 117 against England at Lord's, though missed by the future Cricket Correspondent of The Times on 10 and then being caught by the same fielder off a no ball the following over. He dominated a 5th wicket record stand of 184 with his friend and captain, doing much therefore to set up the eventual 10 wickets victory. He batted 4 hours 58 minutes, hitting fourteen 4s and one 6, before being caught behind off Angus Fraser.

Jonty was to remain loyal to Cronje after the match fixing news broke, but did not, himself, play Test cricket, after 2000. He remained a member of the ODI side for a further three years.

Having had an extremely successful season with Gloucestershire in 1993, he scored 1293 runs at 58.77 with 5 hundreds including a best of 151, he next embarked on an overseas contract when he came to Ireland in 1999 as part of the development programme for Associate ICC countries organised by Ali Bacher of South Africa. Rhodes followed Cronje in being sponsored by Independent Newspapers, thanks to the media group's Chairman Dr (now Sir Anthony) AJF -Tony - O'Reilly. His brief was to coach and play in Ireland's six matches against the South African Academy.

He took some time to adjust to the slow and low wickets before making 32 in a D/L win at Rathmines. He hit three 6s in a 20 ball run spree. However his best performance came in the 3 day first class match at Pollock Park, Lurgan, which was ruined by rain washing out the first day. Ian Callender reported for the Irish Cricket Annual (2000) that "Jonty Rhodes helped spectators forget about the cold with a spectacular innings of 86." Both sides strove hard for victory on the final day with Jonty again showing his worth, well supported by Alan Rutherford. Jonty made 82 with eight 4s and two 6s, the latter being towering straight drives off Eastern Province fast bowler Murray Creed. Eventually the match ended in a draw.

Jonty told Philip Boylan that he thought Irish cricketers lacked intensity compared to their South African counterparts and rather lacked a positive attitude at age group level. Bowlers sent down too many "four balls." However he rightly picked out Kyle McCallan as a player of great potential. It would appear that his other strictures of our game have been taken to heart.

Like several other South African sports stars Jonty is deeply religious. This, he told Boylan, helped sustain him after South Africa's dramatic exit from the World Cup in 1999. He also said that this was why he always walked when out and never knowingly claimed an unfair catch, "The Lord does not like cheats, "he explained. It must be assumed that it was his belief in forgiveness and redemption that enabled his relationship with Hansie Cronje to be unaffected.